Obama Hails Iranian Political Debate
By Michael A. Fletcher
President Obama said today he was heartened to see the "robust debate" that preceded today's Iranian presidential election, saying he hopes it will help U.S. efforts to engage the Islamic regime.
"We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran," Obama said in the Rose Garden. "And obviously, after the speech that I made in Cairo, we tried to send a clear message that we think there's the possibility of change."
Obama has offered to engage Iran after three decades of tensions between the two nations. Still, Obama has made clear that Iran should abandon its nuclear program, which the United States believes is intended to create nuclear weapons, but Iran says is to generate electricity.
A heavy turnout forced polls to remain open late in Iran as voters there decide whether they want to retain President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has hurled harsh rhetoric at Israel and the West. Ahmadinejad's top rival is widely regarded to be reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi, who served as prime minister in the 1980s. His candidacy has inspired spontaneous street demonstrations and open criticism of Ahmadinejad in Iran.
"Ultimately the election is for the Iranians to decide," Obama said, adding: "Whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there's been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways."
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